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Tag: sonia sotomayor

Alabama Republicans Target Disabled With New Voting Restrictions

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

First, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey came after women, signing into law in 2019 a bill outlawing abortions, even for victims of rape and incest, except when medically necessary. Then, she targeted transgender youth and signed into law on April 23 a bill prohibiting those children from participating in public school sports. Now, Ivey's targeting people with disabilities.

The Republican governor signed a bill into law on Wednesday to ban curbside voting and in effect make casting ballots more difficult for people with disabilities. The unfortunate law prohibits placing voting machines outside of voting places and prevents poll workers from taking ballots into or out of voting places except when done as part of the established process to transport ballots. The bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Wes Allen was passed by the Alabama House of Representatives in a 74-to-25 vote on March 18 and pushed through by the Senate in a 25-to-6 vote on May 17, the last day of the legislative session, the Montgomery Advertiser reported. The ACLU of Alabama tweeted: "With our state in the middle of a devastating pandemic and economic downturn, what is the Alabama Legislature doing? Passing bills that burden or attack Alabamians."

Ivey didn't mention the curbside voting ban's potential impact on people with disabilities in her press release bragging about rubber stamping Republican Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill's voter suppression effort. "Our freedom of speech is rooted in our ability to vote," she instead said. "A strong election process is what sets our democracy apart from every other country in the world." Protecting the electoral process has become a popular guise for voter suppression tactics embraced throughout the country among Republicans, following a triple loss for the party last year in the White House and in two U.S. Senate runoff races, effectively flipping the Senate from majority Republican to majority Democratic.

Maria Schell-Cannon, a mother and educator, called the new Alabama law "disgraceful' in a tweet on Wednesday. "This doesn't prevent fraud, just makes it more difficult 4 the disabled & elderly 2 gt 2 the polls," she said in the tweet. "Sad! The GOP is destroying democracy." Randy Wilson, a real estate investor and father, tweeted on Thursday: "No lottery. No expanded medicaid. No effort to rewrite the antiquated constitution. BUT, we made it a priority on the last day in session to ban curb side voting without a single case of curbside voting or any significant voter fraud. C'mon Alabama..."

Voters and activists brought up the subject of curbside voting last year in a federal lawsuit criticizing voting laws that didn't take into account health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a federal judge sided with activists, AL.com reported. Merrill and Attorney General Steve Marshall, however, successfully appealed the decision, getting the U.S. Supreme Court's permission to ban curbside voting. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the dissenting opinion that Merrill "does not meaningfully dispute that the plaintiffs have disabilities, that COVID-19 is disproportionately likely to be fatal to these plaintiffs, and that traditional-in-person voting will meaningfully increase their risk of exposure."

Sotomayor also highlighted in her dissent the account of Howard Porter, Jr., a plaintiff in the case and a Black man in his 70s with asthma and Parkinson's Disease. He said in district court "many of my (ancestors) even died to vote. And while I don't mind dying to vote, I think we're past that. We're past that time." Alabama Republicans apparently disagree.

In Stunning Rebuke To Kavanaugh,  Sotomayor Warns Of Radical Trump Court

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered a strong warning to the American people and a strong rebuke of Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the newest far right wing Justices on the Trump-shaped conservative-majority Supreme Court in a blistering but brilliant dissent handed down Thursday.

Justice Sotomayor warned this newly-constructed court, unevenly weighted with six justices (ranging from highly conservative to far right wing religious extremist,) is "willing to overrule precedent without even acknowledging it is doing so, much less providing any special justification."

That warning is similar to those posed by legal experts from the left who were extremely opposed to then-President Donald Trump's final Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. Justice Barrett's judicial opinions made clear she will not honor precedent, known as stare decisis. Without that legal guardrail many decidedly settled law targets of conservatives, from the right to choose an abortion to the right to marry, could be struck down by the "Trump Court."

The case Justice Sotomayor used to deliver her warning and her criticism of Justice Kavanaugh, is Jones v. Mississippi. It centers on a 15-year old boy who murdered his father, claimed self defense, and was sentenced to life in prison. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled life in prison for minors convicted of "non-homicide crimes" constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, unless that minor has been found to be "incorrigible," or unable to be rehabilitated. (The ACLU's position is regardless of the type of crime, life in prison for minors is cruel and unusual.)

On Thursday Justice Kavanaugh, who himself has a history of disturbing acts in college, as his confirmation hearing proved, wrote the 6-3 majority opinion in which he upheld the lower court ruling that the defendant was rightly sentenced to life in prison despite no finding of whether or not he is able to be rehabilitated.

"How low this Court's respect for stare decisis has sunk," Justice Sotomayor warned.

"Not long ago, that doctrine was recognized as a pillar of the 'rule of law,' critical to 'keep the scale of justice even and steady, and not liable to waver with every new judge's opinion,'" she wrote, citing Kavanaugh's own opinion in a previous ruling.

"Now, it seems, the Court is willing to overrule precedent without even acknowledging it is doing so, much less providing any special justification. It is hard to see how that approach is 'founded in the law rather than in the proclivities of individuals,'" she added, again using Kavanaugh's own words against him.

She called the ruling a "contortion" of previous rulings, and writes: "As this Court has consistently reiterated, 'a departure from precedent demands special justification.'"

"The Court offers no such justification today. Nor could it," she charged.

"Instead of addressing these factors, the Court simply rewrites Miller and Montgomery," she observes, naming the two cases the provide the precedent today's ruling effectively overrules, "to say what the Court now wishes they had said, and then denies that it has done any such thing."

Slate's legal expert Mark Joseph Stern calls the ruling in the case "barbarous," Sotomayor's warning "ominous," and her criticism of Kavanaugh "one of the most savage passages she has ever written."

University of Michigan Law School asst. professor Leah Litman:


The U.S. Supreme Court has now made emphatically clear it is an activist court and "settled law" is fair game.

Civil rights activists, and the American people who value their rights, consider yourselves warned.

Sotomayor Rebukes Court Majority For Jeoparding Rights Of Florida Voters

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a forceful rebuke to her colleagues on the Supreme Court Thursday as the majority decided to leave in place a lower court's ruling protecting Florida's effort to disenfranchise nearly 1 million voters.

The Supreme Court had been faced with the prospect of weighing in on a battle over a Florida law requiring people who have been convicted of felonies to pay all related fines to the state before they can vote. In 2018, Florida passed a popular referendum by a large margin permitting people with felonies on their records to participate in elections, but the state government — clearly fearful this change will hurt Republican officeholders — tried to find a loophole. So the new rule puts another hurdle in place for people who have committed felonies to jump over before they can register to vote.

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Sotomayor: Supreme Court Excused Trump’s Bigotry In DACA Decision

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Many immigrants and their advocates won a major victory on Thursday when the Supreme Court issued an opinion, drafted by Chief Justice John Roberts, blocking the Trump administration's efforts to rescind a program protecting undocumented people who arrived in the United States before they were adults. But Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented from one part of Roberts' majority ruling, even as she and the other three liberal justices concurred with the chief justice for the bulk of the decision.

The case examined the Trump administration's decision to wind down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that was implemented under President Barack Obama. In a split 5-4 decision, the majority of the court found that the Department of Homeland Security gave an insufficient rationale for rescinding DACA and determined that the decision was impermissibly "arbitrary and capricious." The Trump administration may still be able to end the program, but it will have to go through a thorough review process before it tries again.

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In Fiery Dissent, Sotomayor Rebukes Right-Wing Justices For Fealty To Trump

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a devastating conclusion to a dissenting opinion released Friday, drawing attention to her conservative colleagues’ callousness toward inmates facing the death penalty and contrasting it with their excessive fealty to President Donald Trump.

Her dissent broke from the court’s decision to grant the Trump administration a stay in the case of Wolf v. Cook County. In the case, a lower court had issued a preliminary injunction blocking implementation in Illinois of Trump’s new “public charge” rule, which places restrictions on immigrants who it believes might use certain government services. Last week, the Trump administration had asked the Supreme Court to overturn the injunction and issue a stay to allow the rule to go into effect while the legal challenges continue.

The five conservative justices ruled in favor of the stay, while the liberal justices — including Sotomayor — opposed it.

But, as Economist reporter Steven Mazie pointed out, Sotomayor was the only one to write a formal dissent — and it included strong words for the conservatives.

She argued that “this Court is partly to blame for the breakdown in the appellate process. That is because the Court—in this case, the New York cases, and many others—has been all too quick to grant the Government’s ‘reflexiv[e]’ requests.”

She continued:

Perhaps most troublingly, the Court’s recent behavior on stay applications has benefited one litigant over all others. This Court often permits executions—where the risk of irreparable harm is the loss of life—to proceed, justifying many of those decisions on purported failures “to raise any potentially meritorious claims in a timely manner.”

Yet the Court’s concerns over quick decisions wither when prodded by the Government in far less compelling circumstances— where the Government itself chose to wait to seek relief, and where its claimed harm is continuation of a 20-year status quo in one State. I fear that this disparity in treatment erodes the fair and balanced decisionmaking process that this Court must strive to protect.

In other words, she accused the conservative majority on the court of too easily dismissing the plight of people on death row, while jumping at the chance to do relatively trivial favors for the administration.

“A remarkable accusation for a justice to lob against her colleagues,” noted Slate reporter Mark Joseph Stern. “And tragically accurate.”

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Danziger: The Rookie

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.

Outraged About Ginsburg’s Comments? Supreme Court Justices Have Always Voiced Political Opinions

Donald Trump is freaking out over statements made by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ginsburg didn’t hold back during a New York Times interview published Monday. “I can’t imagine what this place would be — I can’t imagine what the country would be — with Donald Trump as our president,” she said.

Trump, naturally, hopped on Twitter to complain.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called Ginsburg’s comments “out of place” during a CNN Town Hall on Tuesday.

But even after after a wave of criticism, including from “liberal” outlets, Ginsburg refused to walk back her comments. On Monday, she called Trump a “faker.”

“He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego. … How has he gotten away with not turning over his tax returns? The press seems to be very gentle with him on that,” she said in her chambers.

The backlash over Ginsburg’s comments is not surprising, given Trump’s history of trying to de-legitimize the judicial system (especially when it applies to him). But his argument that Ginsburg’s comments disqualifies her from being an unbiased judge is a weak one: The ideological leanings of the justices are well known by not only their decisions (its kind of their job to give opinions), but also their public statements.

Unlike Ginsburg’s comments about Trump, justices have made plenty of statements in the past that relate directly to cases before them in the court.

Antonin Scalia was the poster boy for this behavior – the conservative legal icon frequently toured between law schools, book stores, and other gatherings, debating all comers on a wide range of topics. We knew how he felt about the death penalty, abortion and homosexuality:

“The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state.” he said in 2012.

“What minorities deserve protection? What? It’s up to me to identify deserving minorities? What about pederasts? What about child abusers? This is a deserving minority. Nobody loves them.” he said in 2015.

Scalia’s defense of his homophobic remarks could easily be used to defend Ginsburg’s Trump comments — not that Ginsburg would use his argument, despite her storied, decades-long friendship with Scalia.

“If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?” Scalia said in 2012 after a gay Princeton student asked him why he equated laws banning sodomy with laws that ban man-on-animal sex and murder.

Ginsburg herself has long been known for her frankness. Joan Biskupic, the journalist who reported Ginsburg’s statements on Trump, writes that, having met with her “on a regular basis for more than a decade,” he “found her response classic.”

Biskupic elaborates:

I have witnessed her off-bench bluntness many times through the years.  During 2009 oral arguments in a case involving a 13-year-old Arizona girl who had been strip-searched by school administrators looking for drugs, she was troubled that some male justices played down any harm to the student. “They have never been a 13-year-old girl,” Ginsburg told me. “It’s a very sensitive age for a girl. I didn’t think that my colleagues, some of them, quite understood.”
Earlier in 2009, she was being treated for pancreatic cancer yet made sure to attend President Barack Obama’s televised speech to a joint session of Congress, explaining that she wanted people to know the Supreme Court was not all men. “I also wanted them to see I was alive and well, contrary to that senator who said I’d be dead within nine months.” She was referring to Sen. Jim Bunning, a Kentucky Republican, who had said she would likely die within nine months from the pancreatic cancer. Bunning later apologized.

 

As the first Latina to reach the court, Justice Sonya Sotomayor fiercely defends her use of personal political reflection, based in experiences that she believes differ from those of the other justices, in her arguments. The issue of affirmative action is especially important to Sotomayor. In her 2013 memoir, she wrote:

“Much has changed since those early days when it opened doors in my life. But one thing has not changed: to doubt the worth of minority students’ achievement when they succeed is really only to present another face of the prejudice that would deny them a chance even to try.”
Sotomayor has taken this sentiment to the court. In her dissent on Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, she wrote: “Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, ‘No where are you really from?'”
Sotomayor’s opinion in a fourth amendment case on the validity of police stops was an explicitly political appeal. “It is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny,” she wrote in her dissent, on a case where a Utah man claimed he was unlawfully stopped by police. “For generations, black and brown parents have given their children ‘the talk’ — instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger — all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them.”
And besides: The Constitution does not prohibit Supreme Court Justices from expressing personal opinions.

Bloomberg‘s Noah Feldman offers Chief Justice John Marshall, who served as John Adams’s secretary of state while he was a chief justice, as proof that America’s founding generation was not “obsessed with the idea that justices have to be outside the reach of politics.”

Marshall, a loyalist of the Federalist Party, was understood to retain his beliefs while serving as chief justice subsequently.

Two of his most revered opinions, Marbury v. Madison and McCulloch v. Maryland, are historically incomprehensible except through the lens of partisan politics. In the first, he went to great lengths to embarrass the Jefferson administration by insisting that Marbury had a right to a justice-of-the-peace commission granted by Adams, before tacking back and holding that the law that would have allowed the court to force the delivery of the commission was unconstitutional.

In the second, he upheld the constitutionality of the Bank of the United States, originally such a fundamental partisan issue that it helped drive the creation of his Federalist and Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican parties.

Maybe conservatives shouldn’t argue about the integrity of the Court while in their fourth month of refusing to give it a ninth justice.

Photo: AFP Photo/Tim Sloan

Supreme Court Strikes Down Florida’s Way Of Imposing Death Sentences

By Michael Doyle, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down Florida’s death-penalty practice, concluding that the state’s unique system, which combines a jury’s non-unanimous recommendation with a trial judge’s final decision, violates the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment.

In an 8-1 decision that united liberal and conservative justices, the court bluntly overturned several past opinions that had upheld Florida’s system.

“The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote. “A jury’s mere recommendation is not enough.”

The court’s 10-page ruling is a victory for death-row inmate Timothy Lee Hurst and a direct challenge to Florida state lawmakers, who will probably have to rewrite the rules in order to fully preserve capital punishment.

The fate of the 37-year-old Hurst may still be fought out in lower courts, as state-level judges next decide whether the legal error in his case was harmless.

It was unclear how the ruling would immediately affect the 400 inmates facing the death penalty in Florida, though a number of similar challenges might be forthcoming.

“If Florida, like other states, had required a binding, unanimous jury verdict before a death sentence could be returned, it would have imposed 70 percent fewer death sentences over the last five years,” said Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice.

Whitney Ray, director of media relations for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, said in an email Tuesday afternoon that “we are reviewing the ruling.”

Nationwide, Cassandra Stubbs, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Capital Punishment Project, predicted that the decision “represents another step on the inevitable road toward ending the death penalty” because of jurors’ decreasing willingness to impose death.

Only 49 death sentences were imposed last year, down from 315 in 1996, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The decision issued Tuesday morning capped a case that began May 2, 1998, when a murder and robbery occurred at a Popeye’s restaurant in Pensacola. Cynthia Harrison, a young assistant manager, was found bound; she’d been stabbed 60 times on her face, neck, back and arms.

Nineteen years old at the time of the murder, Hurst has consistently professed his innocence. His defense attorneys also have argued he was psychologically damaged from childhood and has below-average mental capacity.

Under Florida law, a death sentence requires the finding of at least one aggravating circumstance; for instance, that the killing occurred during the course of another felony, or was particularly heinous.

The jury makes a nonbinding recommendation of life or death, after weighing both aggravating and mitigating circumstances. The jury, though, does not have to spell out the factual basis for its recommendation. The judge makes the final sentencing decision, giving “great weight” to the jury’s recommendation.

The jury in Hurst’s case recommended a death sentence by 7-5. The trial judge, on her own, made the formal findings concerning aggravating circumstances that are necessary to justify the death penalty.

“The Sixth Amendment protects a defendant’s right to an impartial jury,” Sotomayor wrote. “This right required Florida to base Timothy Hurst’s death sentence on a jury’s verdict, not a judge’s factfinding.”

Joel Hirschhorn, a criminal defense attorney with the Miami-based firm Gray Robinson, said Tuesday that the state’s death-row inmates must now “hurry and wait for the Florida Supreme Court to apply the new rule of law or wait for the Florida Legislature to act.”

In 27 of the 31 states that maintain the death penalty, the jury makes the final decision whether to impose the death penalty. Only Florida, Alabama, Delaware and Montana leave the final sentencing decision up to the trial judge.

©2016 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the Supreme Court. Commonwealth Club via Flickr